Divisional Rankings: Each UFC Champion's Best Skill
Virtually every current UFC champion has a staple weapon. Whether it be the violent usage of pugilism, slick submission work or outright frenetic pacing and otherworldly cardiovascular capability, these guys have made it to the top of the heap for a reason.
That said, it’s always important to note that any man fit to hold UFC gold is a man who no doubt showcases a vast array of highly refined skills. It takes a multi-dimensional fighter to climb to the summit of any division within the UFC’s fold, but most of today’s current champions specialize in one specific area.
From flyweight to heavyweight, each man to hold gold knows his game, and each uses their greatest strength—first and foremost—to ensure fans aren’t treated to chaotic round table of title transfers.
Women’s Champion: Ronda Rousey (Armbar)
There is absolutely no secret to Ronda Rousey.
Six professional fights, six first-round arm-bar submissions.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson (Speed)
The speed of “Mighty Mouse” has not been eclipsed inside the octagon.
Johnson is well-versed in the striking departments, and he’s a tenacious wrestler who will fight for—and obtain—takedowns with reckless abandon and full dedication. If he sets his mind on achieving something in a fight, he gets the job done.
But beyond his relatively deep tool belt resides a gift that man is either born with, or not. That gift is speed, and Johnson has more than enough to spare, and still maintain his placement as the fastest fighter on the UFC roster.
Johnson is lightning quick, and it’s been a large key to his success. In and out, combos and then gone, well-timed take-downs...Johnson executes these maneuvers with seeming ease because he moves so unbelievably fast. It’s been near impossible for his foes to inflict any significant damage.
So long as Johnson doesn’t slow, he should hold the 125-pound title for quite some time.
Bantamweight: Dominick Cruz (Footwork)
Although Cruz has been on the shelf battling injuries for what feels like two career lifetimes, he’s still widely considered the greatest bantamweight on the planet. The truth is, he still deserves to be recognized as such.
Cruz is a very strong, proficient wrestler, and he rattles off combinations like no man’s business. His strike-to-ankle-pick is a thing of pure beauty that rarely garners the respect deserved, and he’s no slouch in regards to submission offense and defense.
Despite his thorough skill set, it’s Cruz’s footwork that distances the man from all other competitors (sans perhaps Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre). Cruz moves like water in the cage. He engages, pivots while simultaneously side-stepping (which creates beautiful openings for awkwardly angled strikes), peppers his foes and uses forward angular movement to avoid retaliation from his competition.
Cruz’s footwork is quite honestly the most impressive I’ve personally seen inside of 19 years following the sport, and that’s an incredible statement, if you ask me.
Interim Bantamweight: Renan Barao (Fearlessness)
Renan Barao is a very unique fighter in the fact that he’s capable of making any adjustment needed to emerge victorious.
As the current interim bantamweight title-holder, he’s already done what few interim “champs” are willing to do: fight top contenders and lend credence to his moniker of "champion." Barao’s already beaten up two extremely talented gentlemen in Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald.
That in my mind defines a champion: a man willing to avoid ring rust, and eager to fight the best available because—whether his interim belt carries the respect of the official title or not—he believes himself to be the best in his division.
Unlike numerous interim title holders of past (Carlos Condit being the most recent and notable), Barao shows zero fear of the division’s other threats. He earned the interim belt by battering Faber, defended it in thrilling fashion against future champion (I have little doubt) Michael McDonald, and if Cruz isn’t prepared to the cage again soon, he’ll likely accept the challenge of another top contender.
Renan Barao is what champions should be made of.
Featherweight: Jose Aldo (Leg Kicks)
Jose Aldo does so many things in such wildly impressive fashion it is fairly difficult isolating one key strength. He’s unbelievably fast, as explosive as they come, profoundly durable and completely polished in every element of MMA.
But ultimately, there is no denying that the one tool that Aldo possesses that practically ensures prolonged weeks of agony for opponents is his leg kicks. They’re fast, they’re thrown with full power and they’re startlingly accurate.
Don’t fight this man if you’ve got an immediate post-fight vacation planned, chances are you’ll be immobilized.
Lightweight: Benson Henderson (Athleticism)
“Smooth” Benson Henderson is the most athletic man under UFC contract today. Many will argue that brand should go to GSP, but I beg to differ.
Henderson moves 100 miles an hour for 100 percent of the fight. He doesn’t slow down, and he very, very rarely shows athletic inferiority to his opponents. In fact, as of debuting with the UFC back at UFC 129, only Frankie Edgar has made the man look remotely human.
Quick, agile, intelligent, opportunistic and as instinctive as a lion in the wilderness, Henderson’s greatest tool is his athleticism, hands down.
Welterweight: Georges St-Pierre (Top Control)
Georges is without question one of the most well-rounded champions in history. He has virtually zero weaknesses in regard to combative engagement.
His movement is fantastic, his jab is one of the best in the business and his fight IQ is practically immeasurable. However, the one tool GSP can always bank on to lead him to victory is his suffocating wrestling.
This man understands top-control like none I’ve ever seen. If he wants you on your back, that’s where you’ll end up. The fact that he’s traditionally a very active ground-and-pounder adds to his wrestling mystique.
Do. Not. Get. Trapped. Beneath. GSP!!
Middleweight: Anderson Silva (Precision)
Some may be surprised to know that they won’t find Anderson Silva’s name in the list of fighters who’ve landed the most strikes in UFC history. Others will realize that should be fairly obvious: Silva doesn’t need to throw many strikes to end a fight.
There is no man competing today who displays the elusiveness and precise counter punching that Silva brings to the cage. It’s such an obvious strength that there’s little point in even discussing it.
Watch Silva versus Griffin, Belfort, Bonnar, Irvin or Marquardt for astonishing examples of DOA accuracy. If you wanna take a step further back in time, watch his fight with Tony Fryklund. Just keep a friend in company so he can help you haul your chin from the ground.
Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones (Range)
I’m not one to claim that Jones has only managed to rule the 205-pound division with an iron fist because he’s got a pterodactyl-like wingspan. I think that’s garbage.
However, Jon’s ranginess is a massive factor in his fights. He’s able to keep fighters distanced from an effective pocket placement—while he’s right there in the mix—free to hurl leather with little fear of repercussion.
Genetics gifted him a unique frame, but it’s his mind and reflexes that enable him to use that range to his benefit. He is the greatest range fighter in the business, and his ability to finish regularly while suffering little to no damage time and again is proof of that.
There are a wealth of extremely tall, long fighters competing, but you don’t see them achieving the same success as Jones. That’s because unlike the majority of other men competing, Jon’s got a firm grasp on how to make that range work to maximum reward.
Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez (Relentlessness/Ground and Pound)
If you’d like to see the human equivalent of a freight train, watch a Cain Velasquez fight.
The current UFC heavyweight champion operates at 150 percent and his opponents tend to pay a hefty fee for the man’s relentlessness. He turns faces into hamburger, and he doesn’t necessarily need five rounds to make it happen.
His ability to land punches, cover distance and slam foes to the mat is uncanny and—if the man shows up in complete health—seems all but unstoppable.
His destruction of former champion and current rival Junior dos Santos at UFC 155 was a sight to behold, but he’s done that to many quality fighters in the past. Let’s not forget he handily bashed his way through men like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar and Ben Rothwell to get to that title.
He also turned Antonio Silva into an unrecognizable caricature of himself at UFC 146 just nine months ago.
Follow me on Twitter.